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Welcome to my home page. I became blind at birth. I started programming computers at a young age. I also earned my general class amateur radio license, KA3TTT, a hobby to which I have returned with great joy. I practice Qigong and consider myself a Taoist. I use Linux as my desktop and Android as my mobile OS. I eat gluten-free vegan meals. For the rest you'll have to read my blog. To comment on what you read here, visit Disboardia, my bulletin board system.

Scrivener

September 07, 2011

I have discovered an awesome writing tool for the Mac called Scrivener. They also make a version for Windows, but I cannot use Windows for psychological reasons, so will only speak of the Mac. I love Scrivener! I have already felt its power, and know that it will help me write a book which could change the world.

For years I have wanted to write a book about meditation. I discovered the proper technique around the winter solstice of 2010, and began writing. Things started out well, but gradually became overwhelming, and I hadn’t worked on it as much as I would have liked. I need to get this thing out there!

While searching in the Mac App store for writing tools, I came across Scrivener. I actually decided to go to the web site and download their free thirty day trial, which I would recommend. It comes with a tutorial which you need to go through before beginning. It may seem like it has a bit of a learning curve, but once you get through it you will understand. The developer even fixed a VoiceOver issue I submitted.

I began to feel Scrivener’s power as soon as I began converting my book. I saved what I had done in rich text format, then imported it into the “Research” folder which the default template helpfully includes. I then began going through the original text and pasting the parts in the proper order. As I did this I realized Scrivener’s paradigm, and my mind opened.

Remember in elementary school when they made you write research papers, and they made you use those stupid note cards? As a blind student I always hated doing it, because you can only fit so much on a braille card, and eventually the whole thing would become unwieldy and impractical. I quickly learned the advantages of writing an outline. It lets you see the structure of your writing, improving your ability to organize it. Memories of writing outlines on a braille writer came flooding back. If you do a really good outline you can convert it to a paper and have it ready in two nights of medium work. Trust me.

A flat textfile just doesn’t cut it for non-sequential writing. One does not just write from the beginning to the end nonstop. I therefore wanted to format my book as an outline. I wanted a way to jump between parts, and view how the parts fit into the whole. Scrivener does exactly this and more. At first I pictured that my Draft folder would just have a piece of text for each chapter, and I would jump between chapters. That would have satisfied me or so I thought.

I read on their site about the metaphor of the cards and suddenly all these visual metaphors made sense. I could have folders within folders, containing little pieces of text that when stitched together would make up the chapters and the book as a whole. Beautiful! Now instead of thinking of the book as a large flat endless plain of text, I can think of each little piece of text, each card, and nothing else. Just write about this topic on this card and don’t worry about anything else. When it comes time, the Scrivenings mode lets you view the whole folder or any arbitrary pieces of text contiguously. Splendid!

I love it when a program does exactly what you need it to. The description said it helps a writer get through that all important first draft. It gives me strength to know that others have had these problems enough to inspire them to write a program. Scrivener works well for the Mac, and will work even better with VoiceOver as development continues. Now that I’ve learned the rudiments of this software, I have to actually get down to some serious writing. And yes, I really do believe that my book could change the world.

Earthquake!

August 23, 2011

A5.8 magnitude earthquake occurred today at 01:53 PM with its epicenter in the Virginia area. I felt it here in Philadelphia. My experience doesn’t really differ from others, but since local news stations had random people on all day I figured I should at least write an entry.

I sat in my home office talking on the phone. Suddenly, I noticed that everything started slightly shaking, as if vibrated from a powerful source. I figured they had started doing more construction and didn’t think much for a moment, but even then something felt wrong, different somehow. The vibrations didn’t stop, they increased, and everything started shaking. It felt like waves on the ocean, a very strange sensation. The once stable ground had become more like a liquid. It also felt like waves as if from a powerful subwoofer. Even at this low magnitude (around 3 here) I could sense this. I wondered if we had an earthquake. I’ve never experienced one before. I felt a little freaked out, and my friend in the city also felt it.

It past about thirty seconds later and I went outside, not knowing what else to do. I felt kind of stunned and disoriented. I don’t know if the ground continued shaking slightly or if I just felt on edge. When I came outside my neighbor asked if I felt something. Sure enough, the news began reporting the earthquake. No real damage, some windows blown out in high-rises, but no fatalities.

Now I feel totally freaked out about earthquakes. It just happened all of a sudden, without any warning. My Mom remembers one happening when she grew up, and this one tied with the record for this area set 67 years ago. I felt slightly shaken for a little afterward. It felt very weird to experience. I never want to again. Now I know why the Maya have lots of myths about earthquakes. Some even believe this age will end in an earthquake. Though small in intensity, it changed me forever. Now I can say I lived through one.

How to Make a Million Dollars with an iPhone

August 18, 2011

Sorry for the spammy title. I wanted to get your attention, plus I figure it will draw a bunch of traffic from search engines. This article actually discusses ways a blind person can use an iPhone to aide them in their trading and investing.

I turned eighteen in 1995. Of course, at that age I had other things on my mind than my long-term financial planning, if you catch my meaning. By 1999 the dotcom bomb had begun, and I realized I had better start paying attention. I noticed my account going down because of large positions in tech stocks. I warned my bankers to get out. I didn’t need a degree in economics to know that AOL sucked! Continuing questioning just resulted in boring talk, mindless consolations, and a cookie. They did nothing and I suffered for it.

After extricating myself, I didn’t know what to do, so had various people manage my money. They met with varying levels of success. Still, I had my own ideas which proved correct as time went on. For example, I wanted to buy gold at $280 per ounce. Most laughed and called me a kook, accusing me of paranoia over Y2K and suggesting I get some “real” friends. As I write this gold currently sits at $1824.60 per ounce, a 651% increase. Not bad. Eventually I realized that, like so many things in life, if I wanted to do something right I had to do it myself. But how?

In the autumn of 2009 my Dad gave me a few thousand dollars to play with, so I could start learning about trading stocks. A long-time friend of the family became my mentor and we embarked on my quest. At first, it felt like entering a strange new universe. I could perceive the exchange of information but it lacked context, like a bunch of alien robots gibbering away. Over a few months things began to cohere and I started figuring out the pieces of information I needed to make successful trades. Sighted people rely on a lot of graphs and charts to derive useful information. I had to find ways to compensate. I have a good mind for numbers so that came naturally, but I still needed ways to see trends.

When I heard a stock chart while standing in the AT&T store, I knew I had to have an iPhone, and that it would help give me the financial freedom I needed. The iPhone allows me to keep track of all the information I need. I can execute trades from anywhere I can get a signal. As with other areas of life, this constant connection increases confidence and security. When it came time to declare my intentions to take more control of my money, I wrote that having this on my iPhone means I literally have the situation in my pocket at all times.

Now I have a brokerage account with Fidelity. I particularly like their iPad app. I find it much easier to navigate than their web site. It allows for the kind of rapid scanning and execution one needs when computing with the elites and their electronic trading. A lot of people think that buying a stock involves an arcane process of talking to a man who uses a computer to relay orders to anonymous men on a cocaine-fueled floor. Actually it requires only slightly more skill than buying or selling something on Amazon.

While the act of buying or selling doesn’t take much effort, knowing what to buy or sell does. You need information, and lots of it. The web has lots of free information. You might like to familiarize yourself with some of these sites, such as Seeking Alpha, Investopedia, and of course our old friend Yahoo! Finance. An endless amount of experts exist, ready to give you advice to support any point of view you may have. Find sources which you can understand, and which have a proven track record. Many offer paid newsletters and other services which can help. I like Investech, the Trends Research Institute, Solari, the Trading Doctor, and a tip of the hat to Ron Paul.

A collection of apps also help. The core Stocks app provides good basics, and I hear that this will improve in iOS5. The Fidelity app provides news as well. I also like Bloomberg and Gold Live for tracking different things. You can even find apps to recommend trades, such as Stock Genie.

On the Mac side I’ve used two programs. I really like MPortfolio. It has a very accessible layout, but it has had some problems with Yahoo! Finance. It bothers me that so many programs just use Yahoo! Finance as their data source. Give me real-time! I’ve recently begun using Portfolio mobile. The developer has become very open to accessibility, and we have worked together to make the next version quite usable and cool. It also has the ability to sync between my Macs, a feature I need. Unfortunately the iOS version still needs accessibility work, but we will tackle that after we get the Mac version straight. I also love an awesome program called Soulver. It lets you do calculations using variables, and stock symbols can themselves become variables. So let’s say you have Apple (AAPL) configured and you want to know how many shares to buy to spend $5000, just do $5000/aapl.

So can you really make a million dollars from the information in this article? I’d like to think so, but who can tell? Past performance does not guarantee future results. Imposition of order = escalation of chaos. God is a crazy woman!

In the Star Trek the Next Generation episode In Theory, the Enterprise needs to maneuver through a dangerous section of space . They decide to send a shuttle ahead of the ship and relay the guidance information. Picard says he will pilot the shuttle and Riker objects, reasoning that the Captain’s life has too much value to risk on this mission. Picard says: “I believe our best chance of escaping this situation is for me to pilot the shuttle. I’ve got to do this. It’s my ship Will.” Even though Riker may have an advantage, Picard has the most interest. I feel the same way. Now I control my ship with an iPad, a device straight out of Star Trek. Make it so!

Object Oriented God

August 08, 2011

Ask a programmer to explain object oriented programming, and they will say something like: “Well, everything is an object.” Ask them to explain an object, and they will say: “An object is an object.” Or so goes a common joke or misconception.

Of course, we can define an object. An object has fields like a data structure. For example, an address book would have a name, phone number, address, etc. Along with fields for storing data, objects also have functions (methods) attached to them. For example, you’d want to enter data on a card in the address book, print the card, load and save it, etc. Objects belong to a class, and the class can also have methods. For example, the address book class would have a method to search the entire database of cards. This system gives a way of reasonably representing things in the real world…for some. Others find object oriented programming confusing, preferring a more functional approach. Different strokes for different folks. If you want to learn object oriented programming, I’d recommend Ruby.

Humans have always sought some kind of model to explain creation at all levels. According to some ancient religions, the Earth rests on the back of a turtle. The Mayan day sign Imix symbolizes this. If you ask a believer what the turtle rests on, they will simply say another turtle. This might sound strange to some, but turtles and objects both serve as metaphors for the way our mind actually puts the world together.

Comparing these two metaphors brings another paradox to mind. Programming objects have very tangible results, yet software has an intangible existence. The turtle metaphor has intangible results, but a turtle tangibly exists. Perhaps the two explain the same paradox from different angles, and have more in common with each other than it may initially seem.

So what does this hypothetical class look like? Does the class represent the Creator, creation, or both? How would an object of this class behave? What variables and methods would it contain? I don’t know for sure, but it makes a fun and interesting mental exercise. Perhaps we will never really know. Or perhaps someone will figure it out and post some pseudo-code in the comments.

The next time a religious fanatic pesters you, just think of tangible programming objects, or intangible Mayan turtles. They all make sense in their own way. Pick the metaphor that makes sense for you and use it. Just don’t confuse the map with the territory.

How to Share Files between Mac and Linux the Easy Way

August 07, 2011

When I upgraded to Mac OS X Lion, I discovered that Apple unceremoniously removed FTP as a file sharing option. I understood why – FTP has little (if any) security. Still, it annoyed me, because I had ftp set up locally for convenience. Whatever, I wanted to get SAMBA working anyway, so it didn’t bother me. Accessing Linux from Mac proved straight-forward, but going the other way didn’t work out so well. After hours of battling with SAMBA I took a break and thought about ssh, and then I remembered SSHFS. Beautiful!

We’ll start with the hopefully easy part: accessing Linux from Mac. On Linux, set up SAMBA as normal. For the easiest time, set your security level to Shared. Only do this if you use a router or know how to configure a firewall. Now hopefully you will see your Linux machine in Finder and can go from there. If you opt for user level security, you can connect in the Finder. Hit Command-K and enter “smb://username@” Make sure you have your Linux machine set to use a static IP. Plenty of good tutorials exist on how to do these things if you need help.

Now we move on to the fun part: accessing Mac from Linux. You can try to get SAMBA working, but I had no luck with it. Instead, install SSHFS according to your distribution. Arch Linux would use “packman -S sshfs”, Debian and Ubuntu would use “apt-get install sshfs”, and Redhat/CentOS would use “yum install sshfs”. It’ll also install fuse. Remember to make sure the kernel loads the fuse module, using modprobe if necessary.

You now have to make a few changes on your Mac. Your Mac needs to use a static IP for this to work. To do this, open system preferences and go to the networking pane. Select your primary network interface, probably already done. Go to “Configure IPV4” and select “Using DHCP with Manual Address”. Enter in a suitable IP address, one which falls within your network. Now go to the Sharing preference pane and make sure you have Remote Login checked. Note the ssh information in the text box.

Close that an go to Linux. Add your Mac’s address to /etc/hosts to make things easier. We will call this host “mac” in this example. Create a directory with appropriate permissions to use as your mount point. We will use /mnt/mac for this example.

The time has finally come for some action. If you have a user named “apple” and you want to mount their home directory, you’d just type “sshfs apple@mac /mnt/mac” Enter your password. Easy as that! To unmount the directory, just use “fusermount -u /mnt/mac”.

To automate this, you will have to use an SSH key. You can then put an entry like this in your /etc/fstab:

sshfs#apple@mac:/users/apple /mnt/mac fuse defaults 0 0

Enjoy your lightning fast transfers. And if anyone really does know how to get SAMBA working with a mac, feel free to comment. Meanwhile, I feel content with this solution. I hope it helps someone.

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